BookBrowse Reviews The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Jan 2010, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

Buy This Book

About this Book



Clues and red herrings abound in this classic whodunit, starring eleven-year-old heroine Flavia de Luce

Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old British sleuth who very recently entered the literary scene, already has a fan club! I'm joining the quickly-growing group of readers who have fallen in love with this winning heroine, penned by septuagenarian debut novelist Alan Bradley. After following Flavia through her first crime-solving adventure, with five more to come, I say, "Sign me up and bring them on!"

What makes Flavia such a fun heroine? Through her first-person narration we enjoy her illuminating thought processes - which can take us from the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes to the schemes typical of a young girl seeking revenge on two older sisters who often belittle and torture her. I found myself saying, "You go girl!" as Flavia passionately concocts a poison in her chemistry lab - not fatal of course, just enough to mix into the vain sister's lipstick, causing her lips to swell. How sweet is that justice?

What's not to like about a girl who admits, "Sometimes I fabricate things". Or a girl whose mother has died, who loves her grieving father passionately, whose best friend is the family gardener and who darts through the countryside solving crimes on a bicycle named Gladys.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie contains all the elements for an enjoyable classic whodunit. A small English village, a Victorian country house with a deserted chemistry lab, a dead body (of course) in the cucumber patch, a cook whose custard pies no one likes, an Inspector who tries to solve the crime in spite of Flavia's meddling. But what's a girl to do when her father is charged with the murder she knows he's incapable of committing? Clues and red herrings abound, and one can hardly keep up with Flavia's energy and curiosity as she pursues each one.

I recommend this book not only to fans of whodunits for the sheer joy of following clues and plot twists, but to aspiring writers. Alan Bradley creates images as fresh and unique as Flavia's personality:

Dogger began to twitch like an experimental frog whose spinal cord had been hooked up to a galvanic battery.

I hated Mrs. Mullett's seed biscuits the way Saint Paul hated sin.

His voice was as heavy as the lead weights on a deep-sea diver's boots.

There is one image in particular that I will not soon forget, a stellar example of "show, don't tell"; in less than twenty words Mr Bradley paints a rare portrait of grief. I dare you to read page forty-four and not experience the depth of Father's sorrow over the loss of his wife.

And if you ever feel guilt in reading something as lightweight as a frivolous whodunit, you are absolved in reading this book. It is abundant with references to literature, theatre, history and chemistry, not to mention the fascinating history of Great Britain's Penny Black (see sidebar). Father's passion for stamp collecting equals Flavia's for chemistry - "Father loved stamps more dearly than he loved his offspring."

One of the first reviews of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie says Flavia de Luce is Harriet the Spy for grown-ups; I also see a few parallels to Nancy Drew. Both sleuths are motherless, adore their father and solve crimes through a relentless search of the clues, be it in a convertible or on a bicycle.

This reader hopes Flavia doesn't grow up too quickly. I want to spend more time with her, pursuing other crimes with her unique blend of passion and curiosity. I think readers will also enjoy returning to the entire cast of characters and English setting Bradley has created in this series.

Coming Soon
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (USA: March 2010. UK: April 2010)

Reviewed by Vy Armour

This review was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the January 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -